Word of The Day for Tuesday, November 16, 2010


vell•i•cate (VEL-i-keyt) v

1. to twitch, cause to twitch convulsively
2. to irritate as if by a nip, pinch, or tear
3. to touch (a body part) lightly so as to excite the surface nerves and cause uneasiness, laughter, or spasmodic movements
4. to carp or detract

vellicated past participle; vellicated past tense; vellicating present participle; vellicates 3rd person singular present, vellication noun; vellicative adjective; vellicatively adverb

1595–1605; L vellicatus,  ptp. of vellicare,  freq. of vellere  to pull, twitch

Synonyms: pluck, twitch, agitate, tickle
Related Words: revulsion re- "away" + vellere "to tear, pull"
convulsion com- "together"  + vellere "to pluck, pull violently"
svelte pp. of svellere "to pluck or root out," from V.L. exvellere, from L. ex- "out" + vellere "to pluck, stretch"

Sentence Examples:
• The axilla-hair is plucked because if shaved the growing pile causes itching and the depilatories are held deleterious. At first vellication is painful but the skin becomes used to it. -A Thousand and One Nights, trans. Richard F. Burton

• So when children expect to be tickled in play, by a feather lightly passed over the lips, or by gently vellicating the soles of their feet, laughter is most vehemently excited; though they can stimulate these parts with their own fingers unmoved. Here the pleasureable idea of playfulness coincides with the vellication; and there is no voluntary exertion used to diminish the sensation, as there would be, if a child should endeavour to tickle himself. -Zoonomia, Erasmus Darwin

• Is it not daily seen how schoolmasters, teachers, tutors, and instructors of children shake the heads of their disciples, as one would do a pot in holding it by the lugs, that by this erection, vellication, stretching, and pulling their ears, which, according to the doctrine of the sage Egyptians, is a member consecrated to the memory, they may stir them up to recollect their scattered thoughts, bring home those fancies of theirs which perhaps have been extravagantly roaming abroad upon strange and uncouth objects, and totally range their judgments, which possibly by disordinate affections have been made wild, to the rule and pattern of a wise, discreet, virtuous, and philosophical discipline. -Gargantua and Pantagruel, Rabelais

The Storyline
Just at this moment, Anna let out a spasm of involuntary laughter when the tail of Max, her cat perched on the back of the chair, vellicated the nape of her neck.

Sources: Wordnik, Online Etymology

Why This Word:
Vellicate is both oddly specific and broad. The action it describes, a pinch or brush on the skin causing a twitch or spasm is a rather circumscribed experience. And yet vellicate comprises a range of stimulants from a tickle to a tear and reactions from a laugh to a convulsion, with at least one dictionary throwing in a verbal pinch as well. Yet as opposed to most of its synonyms, vellicate is firmly focused on the physical.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

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